This project is about the ‘interior’ of multi-storey interwar buildings of European architects, a topic less investigated than that of the facades. Facades, with their elements of style, have already built the subject of numerous studies in history of architecture. The interior is first of all seen at the 2D level of plans, but this functional division, and the grouping of functional units to zones is experienced in the parcour of the visior as 3D spatiality.
In Nouvelles Impressions d’Architecture, Libeskind (1998) writes "When architecture no longer deals with Space, all transactions, in which the container and the contained twisted together […] have come to an end".
The buildings of the Modern Avant-Garde were raised during a very short time span of 20, sometimes just 10 years, in several different parallelly coexisting styles, coexisting also with newest developments in music, arts, physics, philosophy, economic and social theory and industrialisation. One of the nuclei of the movement was built by the housing programme, particularly suitable to foster innovation. While in more industrialised countries ways to solve social problems were sought for, in the other European countries the new possibilities were seen as an opportunity to give a more prosperous image to cities, by raising density with blocks of flats for the middle class.
The site selection subject of the study was enlarged as compared to the initial proposal. Core countries were: Romania, Greece, Portugal, Italy and Slovenia. But it included also countries of mainstream Modernism such as Germany, Netherlands and France, the ‘Hof’s of Austria, and less documented countries such as Estonia, Bulgaria, and also forerunners of Modernism in Hungary and Finland. The Central European context, mainly Czech Republic was also documented. All these documentations were done based on both literature and field trips. This was enriched, when possible, visiting exhibitions displaying archive research results as well as visiting the buildings from inside to experience the spatiality resulting from their floor plans, which was the subject of the project and will be further detailed.
Interwar buildings were related to traditional ones in Romania and Germany, as documented for the reports of the World Housing Encyclopedia (WHE).
Archive research was performed during a stay at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) and included consulting floor plans and archive photographs of the architecture of Rudolph Fraenkel, a German architect who emigrated to Romania (and then to the UK and the US), during interwar time. It is one of the most comprehensive archives on the architect.
The study concentrated on European features of building stock which have not been covered by previous studies, namely the spatial-functional research of the interior organisation of the dwelling in the blocks of flats for the middle class.
A systemic analysis can be performed morphologically, functionally or dynamically. The connection between the appearance and the generation of the form, human perception and experience, the processional nature of any system, is considered.
The systematic analysis was done morphologically and functionally. Morphology means the study of the form. For this purpose three way in which structure and space can relate were investigated: the structural plan, the free plan and the so-called ‘Raumplan’. Almost always innovative in facade and volumetry, many of the buildings of the Modernity were conservative in the interior division; an example are the housing buildings of Giuseppe Terragni in Italy. The project investigated this interdependence between form and function, considering also international examples, and developing a model inspired by the work of De Stijl in the Netherlands during the 1920s, with a focus on the potential of reinforced concrete (RC). Another aspect the study of morphology led to within this project is the role of the principles of a ‘grid’ in organising the interventions which can be done to retrofit buildings with frame structure. This approach can be followed at different geographic scales, that of the building and urban scale, at urban scale zoning textures come into question. At building scale there is an approach called “computational morphology” which allows for improving, replacing or adding elements in a structure in order to optimise its behaviour. ‘Grid’ structures are possible within skeleton structures, such as RC, steel or timber. In this study the seismic behaviour of the avantgardist RC structures was related to the local seismic culture of timber. Steel cannot be neglected as building the material for Modern buildings in countries like Germany, imported, together with the movement of architects, also to Romania. The study of construction techniques and materials used for construction is an important part of the history of architecture, and it is foreseen that in the coming year, after the year, there will be some teaching for which we were invited in this regard.
The relationship between architecture and structural engineering is one of the interdisciplinary aspects of this project. Another interdisciplinary aspect is that between architecture and computer science.
The study proposes a heterogeneous model in which a zone has instead of a unique function a unique vocation. Zoning results as a structural product in the superposition and interpenetration of textures (sub-systems of the life-frame elements able to respond to the functionally requested situation) of morphologic elements, thanks to the co-operation process of human activities. There is a complex zoning with operational and organisational value.
The model created and employed for a zone is a cybernetic model of systemic analysis and synthesis. Following the documentation of multi-storey interwar buildings and their turn-of-the-century forerunners functional schemes were drawn. Starting point are these plans. The main function of the spaces was determined and assigned in a “Raumbuch”. This is a database-like instrument, a so-called “space-book”. The functional interdependencies were established following the project management instruments and superposed over the spatial arrangement in the flats. Textures were then defined as a “word”. Starting point is the definition of the texture as sub-systems of the life-frame elements able to respond to the functionally requested situation, an analytic instrument of morphological decomposition of the structure in architectural theory. The “words” in Christopher Alexander’s pattern language are an instrument in the systemic decomposition also. Interdependence between these two systemic analysis instruments was established, and even more. A further way of cybernetic analysis appeared suitable during the run-time of the project: semantics. The philosophical concept of ontology is transposed today into computer science. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality in general, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. In computer science, ontology is a formal representation of a set of concepts within a domain and the relationships between those concepts. In recent days ontology based approaches gained terrain also in architecture and urban planning. This concept is adequate for the representation of relationships between the spaces in a building as well, and their operational structure. A ‘technical cassette’ was developed for the buildings analysed. These build a ‘comparison tree’ out of ‘comparison criteria’, connected with each other as “words” following the principles of Christopher Alexander, and described by means of ontology. By means of ontology means that for each criterion the type of data (number, string etc) was defined, as well as the relationship with other data. The relationship in normal sentence is given by the analogy with the “pattern language”, the relationship in computer supported language is given by the ontology. The work “Pattern language” of Christopher Alexander was narrowly looked at. This included views on participatism and phenomenology. Regarding participatism the former research of the fellow was updated with developments in the past 10 years, including participatism in disaster management, the involvement of writers and computer support for participatism, such as, but not only, P(P)GIS. The intervention after the earthquake in l’Aquila, and the lack of participatism there, was investigated, together with relationships between the new developments and those of the student dormitories of interwar time (ex. Le Corbusier).
The determination of characteristics to be maintained when subsequent material and spatial layers redefine the space in frame of contemporary interventions builds a link to former research on space, done under the supervision of Daniel Libeskind. The website of the “rediscovered space”, which was reevaluated was embedded into that of the project.
The lessons learned from the solution given to the problems of the society in the Modern design of flats for coping with environmental problems today are building a link to former research as well. The main environmental hazard considered are earthquakes, and the influence of the architectural layout on vulnerability, as previously mentioned. Another hazard is climate change, and the investigated link in this context was the so-called “rediscovered green space”, a solution to the dense urban areas which resulted with interwar and turn-of-the-century multi-storey buildings. The implication of citizens was considered for implementing these lessons, by means of participatism. These findings were also transferred into teaching.